Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Scooter Ride

My first taste of operating a motor vehicle on the hellish wasteland that is the Indian road system. I rented a scooter from my hotel for about $5 and headed off into the Goan countryside. The original plan had been to go to Panaji for the film festival that was happening there, but it being my first time on a vehicle with less than 3 wheels, I decided it would be hazardous to my health to try and tackle an Indian city of 100,000 people. The countryside is no problem at all, it's a nice cruise, but anywhere with an abundance of traffic is incredibly nerve racking. Instead I just cruised around the countryside, stopping at Anjuna beach and a mediocre fort. Visiting Anjuna made me glad I didn't decide to go there, which was my original plan before heading to Goa. The beach is mediocre at best and there is not a hint of any type of nightlife. So far Arambol is looking like the best choice I could have made.

So I'm going to continue my beach bum crusade for the next few days, and after I ship some stuff home hopefully my lighter backpack will motivate me to get off my ass and start heading north to catch a flight to Thailand. The good news is I found out flights out of Delhi are just as expensive as in Kolkata, so that cuts my train ride in half. The bad news is the price is double what it would have been in January. I guess I'll have to fork out some extra cash for a Christmas in Thailand, but I'm confident it will be worth it.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Ok I figure one part of India that can't go unmentioned is the people that travel it the most: Israeli's. Now well I hate to generalize, and there exceptions (the super nice girls I hung out with in Amritsar, the two girls I met in Pushkar), there is a certain mentality that is apparent in Israeli travelers.

Individually they seem like very nice people and are easy to make conversation with, but small talk will be as far as it goes, getting in ring with an Israeli group is next to impossible. Even if you do end up hanging out with a few, they'll conversationally abandon you and let you sit there while they banter back and forth in Hebrew. They usually stick together in packs, it's very uncommon to see a solo Israeli traveler. It's a very odd style of travel, they'll stay in one place for a long time, getting stoned and sitting in the same restaurants every day. This concept is lost on me, I get too bored if I'm in one place for too long, save for the beach, where there is a lot to keep me occupied.

Overall there's a very ignorant attitude among these people, it's hard to watch them treat the Indian hotel and restaurant owners like servants. The ignorance even extends to other travelers, last night I had to listen to a group of them carrying on in the hotel restaurant (right next to the rooms) until 1 am, with no regard for the other guests or the hotel staff that sleep in cots on the edge of the restaurant. The general concensus among other travelers are that Israeli's are best avoided whenever possible. I wouldn't be too mad if I never had to encounter these travelers in quantity again.

And if I've been insulting in this post, I apologize to the nice Israeli people I've met here, you know who you are.

Living the Life

Summary of the past few (can't even remember how many) days: Sleep, beach, eat, drink, repeat. I have been nothing but a beach bum and it has been great. Arambol is a great place to chill out and soak up the rays. It's not a busy place at all, and the quiet is welcome to me. The beach is lined with tons of small restaurants that offer cabana chairs during the day, and beachfront dining at night.

Last night I ventured out of Arambol with some people I met to go partying in Calingute for the night. Calingute is another beach south of Arambol, and twenty times more busy. Being there made me glad I chose the serenity of Arambol. What surprised me most was the modernity of Calingute. The bars and restaurants there are very trendy, mostly because Goa is a beach resort for Russians, much like Mexico is for Americans and Canadians. Excellent night overall, the bars go all night. I rolled back into Arambol at 6am.

Tomorrow I'm renting a scooter and heading out with a Czech couple I met to Panaji, where a big film festival is happening. Hopefully I'll get to see some cheesy Bollywood action flicks...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kyle vs. Bus

Added another chapter to the ongoing saga of Kyle vs the Indian bus system. I had booked an onward bus ticket from Mumbai to Goa before I left Udaipur through a travel agent who seemed reliable. He told me the bus departed close to where I was staying. Lies. Earlier in the day, before my 6pm departure time, I looked up the hotel I was to be picked up at, and it showed it to be close to me. Then an hour before when I went to catch a taxi, I found out it's about 2 hours out of Mumbai. So I had to miss that bus and buy another $20 ticket to catch on two hours later, this one one km away from my guesthouse. Next time I see that travel agent from Udaipur, I'm going to beat him up and take his lunch money.

The bus ride itself was another typical Kyle experience. I almost got left behind at one of the stops when I was in the bathroom, and I'm almost positive the seats had bed bugs because my arms and stomach are covered in bite marks that itch like hell. Next time I come to Goa it will be in a fighter jet, loaded with bombs to drop on the first Indian Bus Depot that I see.

Anyways, fuck it, I'm in Goa now. We rolled into Mupasa at 10am and caught another local bus (much better ride) to Arambol, a beach community in the north of Goa. First impression: Beautiful. It's exceeded my expectations so far. The beach is better than I thought and lined with palm trees. The beer is cheap (less than $1), there are plenty of beautiful women, and the weather is amazing. Speaking of cheap, I'm staying in a beach hut with a double bed and a common bathroom for $7. I love it here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Southwest Is the Best

Great day walking around Mumbai today. I finished Goa'ing up my wardrobe with a pair of shorts and some new flip flops that won't propel me down flights of stone stairs. I put on quite a few km's on them, walking around the Colaba, Fort and Churchgate districts of the city. It totally reinforced the feeling that this is the most appealing city in India. There's a ton of beautiful architecture left over from the colonial period.

I was hassled a few times for taking pictures of some things, it actually turned out to be pretty comical. I tried sneaking into a university (the most beautiful one I've ever seen) to get pictures but was busted by security guards. I finally got in a gate in one end of it and convinced some other security guards to let me take a couple pictures. Then another guy gave me shit for taking a picture of the Bombay Stock Exchange. I'm not really sure why, he couldn't speak enough English to explain. I didn't delete it though...

Oh and I can't seem to find a cafe with wifi here, they're all not working, so pictures will have to come later. When I get to Goa. Oh yeah.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Mumbai!

Seems like no matter how much money I spend to get a comfortable ride on the buses, it doesn't seem to work. My seat was right above the wheel well of the bus, so my leg room was horribly uncomfortable. And I seem to still be plagued by car sickness. Thankfully a friend of mine gave me some pills for motion sickness, so I was able to keep it together for the journey. It's still lingering with me though, I'll have to confine myself to my hotel room for the rest of the night.

Mumbai: Definitely a different side of India. It's noticeable that the average income in Mumbai is three times the national average. This place has more of a feel of Bangkok than any other India city I've been too. It's tropical, there are actually street lights, traffic lanes and sidewalks! I took a stroll around this afternoon and did some shopping to prep my wardrobe for Goa, and saw the India Gate and the illustrious Taj Mahal Hotel. I had to settle for something a little cheaper, the Taj is a little out of my budget range. Speaking of my hotel, it was definitely a good find. Thank the heavens for the random girl I met in an internet cafe in Udaipur that recommended me to it, it's the same price of the rest of India, in a city where rooms can run you four to five times the standard prices. And it's a nice place, with the most modern bathrooms I've seen so far. And I've already been asked to be an extra in a Bollywood film! Hopefully tomorrow I'll be feeling well enough to take that on...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Exit: Udaipur

So my time in this excellent city is drawing to an end. Tomorrow I catch an overnight, 16 hour bus ride to Mumbai to get a taste of upscale India and possibly Bollywood. This bus ride I didn't cheap out, instead opting for a more comfortable air-conditioned bus.

The past two days have been really laid back and relaxing, exactly what I needed. I've been filling my time hanging out on rooftop restaurants, catching an evening screening of Hitch at a local restaurant and basically being a bum. Last night I went to see some live Indian music at a hotel across the street from mine. The Soufi genre is definitely in the extreme easy-listening circle, and wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was still a good night out. Out of the blue a guy I was sitting beside asked me if I was from Calgary. A close guess based on my accent, I didn't realize I had such a noticeable one.

Today so far has been filled with organizing a hotel in Mumbai and a bus ticket from there to Goa. Prices seem to be pretty steep for this leg, I'm paying almost three times what I was in the North. I also had my first shave at a barber, straight razor and everything. With that and a new haircut, I feel like a million bucks.

Next stop: Mumbai. One step away from the beaches of Goa!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Escape From Pushkar

I finally escaped from the city that had become my new hell. After a surprisingly good bus ride, I arrived in the beautiful city of Udaipur. It really is the most picturesque city I've been to so far, it's deserving of it's title: The Venice of the East. It's set on the shore of a lake, surrounded by low mountains, and has notably less hazy pollution than most other cities.

Yesterday was a total relax day, but today I ventured out and did some sightseeing. The Udaipur City Palace took up a good portion of my afternoon. Some of it is typical Indian palace scenery, which starts to all look the same after you've been to enough, but the views are amazing, as is the stained glass windows carved out in the shapes of trees. Unfortunately this place is popular enough to attract a large crowd of Indian tourists, which can be one of the worst parts of India. All of the people basically trying to butt in front, push or dry hump you in the lines starts to wear on a person's nerves, and it's hard to leave there not feeling like you want to clock somebody in the mouth. Still worth the experience though, and I have some really great pictures to upload when I get wifi access again.

The other part of my afternoon was spent walking to a sunset point south of the city, which had great views of the lake. I ended up walking another couple km's past that, meeting up and having a drink with a cool old French guy. Then the rest of the day was greatly spent on top of a rooftop restaurant eating pizza and enjoying the great view of the lakefront. This place seems like a great opportunity to balance out and drive the Pushkar from my mind.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Apparently I've fallen into a bad luck streak recently. I took the deluxe bus to Ajmer yesterday afternoon, and from there caught a short bus ride to Pushkar, a small town centered around a holy place. Now this town is supposed to be a quiet, relaxing place to hang around, but apparently the forces at work are trying to ruin that for me.

The start of all this bad luck was at the guesthouse I checked into. It looked not too bad, an okay room for a good price. That went for shit with the army of ants and some unknown, giant-ass black insect I had to kill. Then the trouble I had/having finding a room. At one hotel the owner actually told me he wouldn't rent me a room because I was only staying for three nights, he wanted to save it for people staying for the whole week of the camel fair that's about to start. Then I had to fight with the owner of the shithole hotel when I checked out.

I finally found a really nice place to stay, but can only get a room for tonight, everything is booked, I have to find another hotel tomorrow. And I couldn't even do any sight-seeing today, partly because it's raining, in the desert...And partly because of the fact that because of the rain, I horribly biffed down the slippery stone staircase at this new hotel, bruising my pelvis. Pushkar is seriously about to break my spirit. I think I'm going to blow this popsicle stand tomorrow. Fuck Pushkar and it's fucking Camel Fair.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Blue City

Aka Jodhpur. Nicknamed the Blue City because of all the blue buildings that make up the old part of town. Diwali is still going strong, kids a couple rooftops over are detonating the loudest fireworks I've heard yet, they literally sound like mortar blasts. The guest house I checked into is definitely a cool place with tons of character.

Today I walked to and around the Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest in India. It's perched high on top of a rock plateau, the walls almost seem to form right out of the rock itself. It looks impregnable, and it is. Nobody has ever breached the walls to sack it. It's obvious people have tried, there's giant dents in the walls near the gate, made from cannonballs fired from invaders. The fort itself is pretty impressive, with a few very nicely decorated palaces inside.

Walking back to my guest house was an adventure, the streets of Jodhpur are pretty chaotic, with a ton of narrow alleys offshooting from the main streets. Sometimes getting lost is fun though, it allows you to see India beneath the surface, away from the noisy bazaars and roads. I finally got fed up and took a rickshaw back though. One can only be lost for so long before it starts to become annoying.

A Note About Desert Trains.

Dust! Holy dust! The problem with taking sleeper class in the desert is that the windows don't completely close, and that tiny, centimeter wide crack is enough to let in a whole sand dune. As you can see by the picture above, from a 5 hour journey enough dust came in to allow me to write my name on the table. It's very unfortunate too, the desert sunset is amazing to watch from the train, but as soon as any high speed is reached, you'd better be slamming that window shut. A bandanna or some type of cloth to cover your face is a must. I can imagine inhaling a desert isn't particularly good for the lungs. I think next train trip I'm going to try the AC Class, where the windows are sealed shut, hopefully keeping the car interior dust free.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Diwali!

Last night India turned into a complete war zone. Everywhere people flock to the streets after placing candles outside their home and prayer to celebrate the Hindu new year by blowing up their eardrums with fireworks. In every alley and street, all kinds of fireworks were lighting up the sky and shaking the buildings. It is a pretty amazing spectacle to see the entire city lit up by gunpowder, and the haze of smoke that settles over it. By 11pm the air just reeked of cordite.

I was lucky enough to be invited to celebrate Diwali with the owner of the hotel I'm staying at, at his house. Once again, I have to recommend the Roop Mahal Hotel in Jaisalmer, this place is nothing but great. I spent two hours at his house drinking beer and shooting off fireworks with his family. They splurge, about the equivalent of $100 on fireworks, which is a lot in Indian terms. The funniest part is the fireworks themselves. I'm sure Indian quality control isn't very effective, so some of the firecrackers will go off almost as soon as you light them (I almost blew my eardrum out with one), and we had one of the fountain fireworks blow up unexpectedly, a piece of it's glass urn cutting one of the boys. After the fireworks I was served traditional Indian food and went back home for the night. All in all, amazing hospitality.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forts and Camels, Non-Filtered...

Camel Safari! I finally did it. Totally worth it I must say, I had a great time. To anyone reading this that's planning on doing a camel safari, I must recommend booking through the Roop Mahal hotel in Jaisalmer. It was a little pricey but worth it, we went way out past the tourist area to start our trek with the camels. We only ran into one other group of tourists the whole three days, but they were from the same company.

Riding camels is definitely an experience. It's a ass-bruising, ball-crunching experience ride on top of the saddle. While it was definitely bearable, as I sit here typing this I can't help but notice the soreness in my legs. Camels are pretty cool animals, they're assholes in their own way, they're bellows of protest when the riders try to sit or stop them always made me laugh. I liked the camel I had, Heliah. He seemed to warm up to me and by the third day he was listening to my commands and my kicks in his side actually generated speed.

The tour itself was pretty cool. It was me, two other Canadians (Rob & Heather), and two girls from Holland (Romina & Wendy). The staff were good other than some creepy incidents with one, but we were well taken care of and fed. Sleeping on the dunes under the stars was a highlight. I wasn't expecting to be woken up to the sound of the heavy tread and breathing of a big animal, which scared the shit out of everyone Canadian. In the morning we discovered the wild dog prints about ten feet away from us, and three feet away from my bed. The Dutch girls slept soundly through it. The next night the prints were even closer, but thankfully no wake-up call. The chirping of the crickets was definitely a nice break from the honking horns of the city, as was the noticeably reduced amount of pollution. While you never totally feel like you're in the wild (no wilderness with 1 billion people), it's still a peaceful experience.

The two days before the camel safari were spent walking around the Jaisalmer Fort. It's a really impressive place, the biggest living fort in the world. I took a tour of the palace, which included an impressive audio tour. The architecture in the fort is amazing. There's so much contrast between buildings, where you'll find a simple brick structure next to a stunningly carved doorway that looks like something straight out of a palace. I had a great experience in the Jain Temple I'm thankful for, one that brought my views of India more into the positive. Being in India and at the mercy of the touts, you begin to harden up towards the people that talk to you in public. It's a natural defensive reaction, tempered by people constantly trying to scam you or hawk their wares on you. Outside the temples are many tour guides offering you tours, and they can be very pushy. Walking through the Jain temple, I had a man in a robe start to show me around the temple, ignoring the Indians to explain to me the specifics of the temple. I explained to him a few times I wasn't looking for a guide, laying to groundwork to make sure I wasn't going to be forced to pay for it later. "No problem, sir", the classic response. He showed me around the whole temple, a lengthy tour, and at the end I was impressed enough to give him some money. He declined, saying it was his pleasure, and offered for me to take a picture of him. It reminded me that not all Indians are trying to rip me off and I should open myself up a little more. I'd like to thank that man again and post the picture I took of him on my blog.